This week, I joined at least 2,000 workers, who descended upon Oakland’s City Hall to stand in solidarity with workers’ rights/labor struggles in Wisconsin and Ohio. Yesterday was also the anniversary of the assassination of our beloved, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. King was in Memphis to support striking African American sanitation workers. The night before he was shot, in his famous “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech, King explained that the issue that brought him there was, “the refusal of Memphis to be fair and honest with its dealings with its public workers.” The next day he was murdered on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel, on April 4, 1968.
The anniversary of King’s assassination could not have been a more fitting day to stand as ONE nation, “Redeeming the Dream.” The Oakland rally was one of many gatherings of workers. Across the US, people rallied for labor rights and the rights of the poor in America and abroad. In Oakland, public school teachers shut down the downtown Wells Fargo Bank to protest its foreclosure policies. ILWU 10 shut down all ports in San Francisco and Oakland. These actions reflect the intersectionality of poor people’s issues and our collective understanding that we must protect and ensure our ability to provide for all people.
Why the Labor fight continues to be in the forefront of our struggle in America? One could argue that Labor Rights was the premier issue for the first Africans brought to America as slaves. From being deemed as free labor for 400 years to A. Philip Randolph founding Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first union led by African descendants, in 1935. Our economy was constructed on the predilection that the best labor is free labor and labor should be cheap at the cost of the worker, not the employer. Historically, enacting this strategy necessitated division along the lines of race and class. Today, workers’ rights cannot be repudiated as a merely a racial dilemma. 2 out of 10 African American men are providing free labor in prisons. Immigrants are denied rights as workers. Jobs are outsourced. Detroit families are forced to uproot in search of employment. And the meager amount of jobs available in the US barely allows parents to provide adequate food, shelter, and health care. 40 years ago, Dr. King understood that labor issues were not only crucial in African descendants’ ability to advance in America. He advocated that the treatment of workers was a decisive issue for America’s citizens and corporations, King challenged us to transcend forced social constructs, in order to successfully achieve economic equality. This was King’s final call to action; he was murdered the next day, in Memphis. How fitting that we gathered yesterday to honor his spirit and press on in the fight for equality for all working people?
I can close my eyes and hear the crowd chanting, “Redeem the Dream! We are one! I am Wisconsin! I am Tahir! I AM OAKLAND!” As I reflect on this simple act of unity, I am moved to tears of appreciation and sadness. These tears are for all the ancestors, like King, who gave their life for the struggle and for all the unacknowledged living legends fighting every day. I am inspired by the resiliency of all the mothers and fathers fighting to provide for their families and for the security of the next generations.
I am immediately grounded and aware of my personal duty to be at service to the movement, and so appreciative that I can achieve this by practicing stewardship at TIDES.
If you have a moment, take a minute or two to reflect on why you came to TIDES, the people who have inspired you, and the people who’ve paved the way for you to do this incredible and essential work. Know that we are a part of the collective vision. We are the dream and we continue Dr. King’s legacy through our work at TIDES.